Mother of Lincolnshire Royal Marine calls for more help after tragic death

Royal Marine James Holloway, of Billingborough. Photo: MOD
Royal Marine James Holloway, of Billingborough. Photo: MOD

The mother of a "dedicated" Royal Marine who shot himself while on sentry duty after suffering an emotional split from his girlfriend has called for more mental health support for servicemen.

James Holloway, 25, from Billingborough, was found dead by a fellow Marine on the bridge of a Royal Navy supply ship which was moored in Dubai for maintenance work.

His mother, Amanda Gray, today (Friday) told an inquest she believed the Marines "had failed in their duty of care" to her son by allowing him access to live ammunition at the time of his emotional break-up.

Miss Gray said: "The most important thing for me is that my son did not die in vain.

"If there is an emotional relationship breakdown or a death they need to be taken out of service for a few days.

"There is still a culture of servicemen not showing weakness for fear it might end their careers, and this needs to change."

The inquest in Lincoln heard Royal Marine Holloway was serving on his first overseas deployment and appeared "withdrawn" and "not his normal self" following the split with his girlfriend, Holly, but he was kept on armed duty.

Post mortem examinations showed Royal Marine Holloway died from a single gunshot wound to the head from his Heckler and Koch assault rifle while on the Royal Fleet Auxillary vessel, Fort Rosalie.

In a narrative verdict, the Assistant Coroner for Lincolnshire, Richard Marshall, concluded: "Royal Marine Holloway took his own life following the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend."

The Coroner said he had considered carefully if any concerns needed to be raised with the Royal Marines regarding Royal Marine Holloway's death and the awareness of mental health, but he did not think it was appropriate in this case.

"I find it difficult to find fault with any of the individuals who were involved with Royal Marine Holloway," the Coroner added.

"He was prone to over thinking things and internalising things, one of the main reasons the seriousness of the situation was not appreciated at the time."

In a moving statement which was read out at the end of the inquest Royal Marine Holloway's mother said: "James's behaviour was not his usual behaviour."

Miss Gray told the inquest she believed part of the problem was a culture of servicemen not showing weakness for fear of losing their careers.

"Out of this tragedy things need to be put in place to support mental health as well, as physical health," she added.

"Ironically it is mental health awareness week. Steps are being taken, but it will take along time, it is a cultural thing."

The inquest heard yesterday colleagues of the dedicated Marine Commando were aware he had recently split from his girlfriend.

His commanding officer on the ship was made aware of the split and noticed he was "slightly withdrawn", but did not think his symptoms were extreme enough to warrant further action.

In retrospect the officer admitted he would have asked colleagues to speak to Royal Marine Holloway.

Royal Marine Daniel Hilton said he was relieved by Royal Marine Holloway on the bridge of the vessel shortly before 1am on October 30, 2017. His body was found by another Marine at 2.45am.

"He seemed very withdrawn, closed, keeping himself to himself, not the James we knew," Royal Marine Hilton said.

"I was under the belief he was dealing with his break-up in his own way."

One of Royal Marine Holloway's closest childhood friends told the inquest she became aware of the split and texted both his mother and two of his fellow Marines because of her concerns.

In a written statement Victoria Palframan said she had been due to visit Royal Marine Holloway in Dubai but it was then decided his girlfriend would go instead.

The inquest heard Royal Marine Holloway had been given shore leave to visit his girlfriend in Dubai during the week before his death.

"On the day she left she told James the relationship wasn't working," Miss Palframan said.

She said James later texted her and told her the relationship was over.

"I knew he would be blaming himself, " Miss Palframan added.

Miss Palframan said she became concerned on October 28, 2017, after receiving texts from James.

"He was saying they trusted him with live ammunition and a rifle for 90 minutes at a time."

Miss Palframan said she was so concerned that she texted Royal Marine Holloway's mother and two of his Marine friends.

In a text message to Royal Marine Jason Hicks, Miss Palframan explained that she and his family could sometimes talk him out of a "dark place", but on this occasion it was "out of their hands."

His medical records showed no previous history of mental health problems.

Royal Marine Holloway was serving with 42 Commando based at RM Bickleigh near Plymouth.

Wellwishers gathered to pay their respects to him after his body was brought back to Britain.

He had set off on the the Navy ship’s six month stint in its bid to aid allied warships in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy and smuggling in the Middle East.

His colleagues and bosses paid tribute to his “jaw-dropping levels of fitness”, adding that he was nicknamed ‘Barrel’ because of the size of his chest.

Family members described him as a “truly extraordinary son and brother” in a tribute at his funeral at St Andrew’s Church, Billingborough, near Sleaford on November 30, 2017.

They added in a statement: “His smile and quick wit could raise any spirits and people warmed to him wherever he went.

"We are so proud of his achievements and his enduring determination to fulfil his life-long goal to become a Royal Marine and consistently strive for perfection.

“James was bright, funny and his amazing warmth and kindness endeared him to everyone he met.

“A loving, caring son and brother, he will be eternally missed and forever remembered.

"His loss is beyond devastating. A true gift to the world and certainly our world is a lesser place without him.”

In a eulogy released by the Royal Navy, colleagues said it was his “childhood dream” to serve his country.

He joined Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in November 2015 and was “tested” a number of times through injury.

Commanding Officer Lt Col Mark Totten added: “Energy, enthusiasm and irrepressible good humour were James Holloway’s hallmarks.

“A true professional, his desire to be the best Marine he possibly could was evident in all he did: he was quick to take notes, quick to ask questions, quick to learn new skills.

"Only recently, he was singled out as a top-performer during rural training and he relished any chance to hone his Close Quarter Battle skills.

“His approach was an example for his fellow Marines and, through his jaw-dropping levels of fitness, he set the standard.

"James sought to squeeze all he could out of his time and was never one to put his feet up – his Tough Mudder record alone showed us all that he lived the commando spirit off duty as well as on.

“Ever popular, he lifted any team he was a member of and was welcomed across the Commando. We mourn his passing now and will miss him always.”